The Individualists (E.V. Knox)

A satirical piece by E.V. Know ('Evoe' - see earlier entries on him.) Probably never published and it feels unfinished, or at least unrevised. It has a '1984' feeling and also may be mocking Mosleyites who were still around after the war.

 The sound of the rhythmic tramping of many feet aroused me from my day-dreams. I hurried to the window and there, with swinging arms and muscles firm, they strode. The gaze of every marcher was glued firmly to the back of the neck of the marcher in front, and every leg was lifted with the precision of an automaton till the foot was a yard or more from the ground.

  Each, in his left hand, carried a stick or an umbrella, and on that day of slushy pavements and lowering skies the spectacle was one to fill the heart with enthusiasm. Old men were amongst them, veterans of bygone campaigns, grizzled and tanned by wind and sun, pale-faced youngsters of the later levies, gaunt women with steely eyes, and maidens lovely as a rose in June.

  I knew them. They were marching to Trafalgar Square. They were the serried armies of the Individualists. High above them floated the purple banner embroidered with gold and bearing the motto of the Order, "All for one, and one for all." Perfectly disciplined, they divided into companies, wheeled, halted, turned and faced the plinth. The startled pigeons scattered upwards, the lions lay unmoved. The masked leader arose, and the vast multitude, at the word of command, gave him the Salute of Freedom, in which the right arm is lifted to the level of the shoulder, with the palm of the hand held vertical, and then brought suddenly backwards and pressed over the lower portion of the face.

  He began to address them. From my distant station I could only hear snatches of his speech, but from the fact that no murmur arose from the ranks and that every man and woman remained standing to attention, in spite of their obvious colds, I knew well with what reverent attention they were listening to him.

  "We must fight not merely in the open, but underground" - "The eyes of England are upon us" - "in this great meeting-place of democracy" - "We are cogs in the vast machine of Individualist Enterprise" - "shoulder to shoulder, and without thought of personal comfort" - "à bas les Bureaucrats!" - "the Leader's will is all" - "No Individualist thinks of himself, but of the Party alone" ... These were some of the phrases that filtered through the leaden air and seemed to bring a wan sunlight even to that dreary winter afternoon.

  Individualism! How much I prized it! How often had I felt the iron-handed tyranny of the State! Was it too late, I wondered, for me also to join the mighty regiment of Independence and Liberty?

  I noticed that men carrying papers and collecting-bags were moving amongst the sightseers behind the demonstration. Hastily, I put on my goloshes, my overcoat, my muffler, my hat. I went out into the street. I encountered a canvasser.
  "Enrol me amongst the brethren!" I cried. He looked at me sternly, putting his face close to mine.
  "Do you see eye to eye with us?" he asked.
  "Eye to eye," said I. "Aye, and nose to nose."
  "If you speak truthfully you can be inducted into the brotherhood."

  I was ushered into a darkened room, where I took off my coat and rolled up the sleeve of my tattered shirt. A small incision was made in my arm with a sharp knife, and in that of a hooded inquisitor, my blood was smeared on his arm, and his on mine. I repeated the fearful words of the oath.

  I swear to obey the lightest command of the Leader, and those who rule under him, without criticism, whatsoever they may ordain, and, if need be, to lay down my life in the Cause, Every act that I do, every word that I speak, shall be done or spoken in the Name of Individualism, and for the sake of Freedom alone.

  I was allowed to ask certain questions of a subordinate official of the hierarchy before I was released.

  "Who is the Leader?" I asked.
  "His name is not revealed," was the answer. "We speak of him in secret as The Autarch."
  "And you others?"
  "The rest of us have no names. We are numbers." He told me mine.
  "At any hour, any day, you may receive a message in code, telling you of some service you must render, without fail, for Liberty."
  "Even if it means - "
  "Even if it means imprisonment. There are worse things," he said grimly, "than imprisonment."

  I learned then that every Individualist is shadowed night and day by a Fellow Individualist, to see that he has no truck with Bureaucracy and resists, on every occasion, the invidious advances of State Control. I was anxious to know what happened to an Individualist who wavered, or stumbled by the way, and was told that, for a light offence, expulsion with ignominy from the Society was the normal penalty.
  "But for a serious lapse from Individualism," I said, and my voice faltered a little.
  "You will be taken, at night, to a room at the Headquarters of the Brotherhood, and there a man, whose face you will not see, will leave you alone with a loaded revolver on the table."
  I understood (almost at once) the grave implication of the words.
  "Is there anything more? I murmured.
  The speaker's face brightened, and he pulled out a fountain pen.
  "Your subscription," he said, "to the Cause."
  "What happens to the - er - well - to the money?"
  "You are not here to ask questions. You are here to obey. Is not every penny spent fighting the extortions of Bureaucracy in the service of the nation? Don't we send you these pamphlets? Don't we make proselytes? Don't we have to organize?"

  I agreed. I filled in the form. I subscribed. Only a little, because I was poor. But I became a blood-brother. I became a secret servant of Liberty. I went out of the room with a feeling of elation, realizing that I was no more a cipher amongst ciphers, but a sworn comrade of the Individualist Co-operative Union.
  "All for one," I repeated to myself happily, "and one for all."

  And then I remembered suddenly that I had forgotten my number, and given, by some stupid error, a false name and address. But there was an unaccustomed bulge in my waistcoat pocket. I had also forgotten, I remembered, to return the fountain pen.

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